Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux

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Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux
BirthplaceParis, France

Boileau-Despréaux, Nicolas


Born Nov. 1, 1636, in Paris; died there Mar. 13, 1711. French poet, critic, and theoretician of classicism. Son of a bourgeois functionary.

Boileau studied theology and later law at the Sorbonne. During 1660-66 he wrote nine Satires on worldly, moral, and literary themes, in which he maliciously ridiculed precious literature and burlesque. The dialogue Heroes of Romances is devoted to the critique of precious literature (1665, published 1701). His Discourse on the Ode (1693) and Critical Reflections on Several Passages in the Rhetorician Longinus (1694) are associated with the so-called debate between the ancients and moderns. Boileau defended the superiority of the ancients over contemporary writers.

The basic aesthetic principles of French classicism were formulated by Boileau in the poem The Art of Poetry (1674). Boileau’s aesthetics were pervaded by rationalism: the beautiful for him was identical with the rational. Having made the principle of the “imitation of nature” the basis of his poetics, Boileau limited it to the expression of an abstract generality and typicality that excluded everything individual and changeable. According to Boileau this kind of “imitation of nature” was the essence of ancient art, which he regarded as the absolute aesthetic norm (Aristotle and especially Horace). Boileau established firm rules of “good taste” and regarded popular poetry as “vulgar” and “barbarous, ” “marketplace” art. Boileau put forward the requirement of the observation in drama of the three unities: of place, time, and action. He devoted much attention to problems of artistic form as manifestations of the writer’s reason. The normative character of Boileau’s aesthetics was reflected in his theory of genres. Boileau’s aesthetics did not permit the slightest mixing of the sublime and the low, of the tragic and the comic, and of the heroic and the humorous.

Boileau’s poetics influenced the aesthetic thought and literature of the 17th and 18th centuries in many European countries. In Russia, Boileau’s aesthetic theories were followed by A. D. Kantemir, A. P. Sumarokov, and especially by V. K. Trediakovskii, who in 1752 translated The Art of Poetry into Russian.


Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1-4. Paris, 1870-73.
In Russian translation:
Peoticheskoe iskusstvo. Foreword by N. A. Sigal. Moscow, 1957.


Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. Pages 523-38.
Anikst, A. Teoriia dramy ot Aristotelia do Lessinga. Moscow, 1967. Pages 255-62.
Bray, R. Boileau, l’homme et l’oeuvre. Paris [1942].
Brody, J. Boileau and Longinus. Geneva, 1958.
Magné, E. Bibliographe générale des oeuvres de N. Boileau. Paris, 1929.


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Then, in a powerfully barbed final chapter, she discloses her negative hermeneutic, a canonical conspiracy theory: a phalanx of male critics, led by Nicolas Boileau, challenged and eventually expunged this female tradition, leaving behind only the exceptional, depoliticized figure they called, patronizingly, "Madame de La Fayette.
It was the first German treatise on the art of poetry to apply the standards of reason and good taste advocated by Nicolas Boileau, the foremost exponent of classicism in France.
Among the preservers of the Horatian tradition were Pierre de Ronsard, Nicolas Boileau, Jean de La Fontaine, Michael Drayton, and Andrew Marvell.
This type of satire has been used in poetry, by Nicolas Boileau, John Dryden, and Alexander Pope, among others; in drama, in such forms as the comedy of manners; and in prose fiction, in the novels of such authors as Miguel de Cervantes and Jane Austen.
Thenceforward Juvenal has never ceased to be studied and admired, and he has been imitated by many satirists, including Giovanni Boccaccio, Nicolas Boileau, and Lord Byron.